The Dream Machine: Chapters 1 Ė 5
If ever an episodic game cried
out that you wait for all the episodes to be released before playing,
this is it. It has been more than six years since Chapter 1 came out,
and more than two years since Chapter 5. However with the sixth and
final Chapter releasing this May, it seemed like an opportune time to go
back to something I had started way back then and then simply lost track
The Dream Machine tells the
story of Victor and his pregnant wife Alicia, newly moved into an
apartment block that is not all it seems. Dreams are a feature from the
very opening scene, and Victor soon finds himself having to enter the
dreams of the other residents, including his wife, in order to undo what
is being done by a machine in the basement.
If you have all five Chapters
available to you, you can start wherever you like, but while most of the
dreams are self-contained, the narrative is a single one and really
should be played from the beginning. Once you begin, you seamlessly
transition straight to the next chapter, the only indication that you
have moved on being a Chapter title briefly displayed over the game
window. You can of course exit and load any new Chapter you like, or any
save game you want.
If you load each Chapter
directly, you get an introduction with a literary quote reflecting the
Chapterís title, but you never get a ďpreviously onĒ or anything
similar. If you play straight through from the start it hardly matters,
but if the last time you played was two years ago, a little update is
There is a lot to like about The
Dream Machine, not least of all its design. Made out of clay and
cardboard and no doubt some other things, with claymation characters
throughout, it is an extraordinary visual achievement. The Grimm quality
fairy tale woodland in Chapter 5 is the highpoint, richly detailed and
really quite beautiful, made all the more impressive by the number of
separate locations and the changes in perspective that are part of the
puzzling. While each location is by and large still, there is enough
movement and motion here and there, coupled with excellent environmental
sound and a varied musical score, to avoid any sense of a lifeless
vista. The lumpy visages of the characters just add to the ambience. As
far as I was concerned, it was a marvellous construct.
It isnít all look without
substance though, each dream offering an opportunity to have different
experiences as part of an overall narrative, each one as different as
the other. It can be mundane, touching, thoughtful, gruesome, and
voyeuristic, even within the same dream. There are some fantastical
elements, especially towards the back end, from tickling a pixie to
being ferried inside a vampire stomach. Not everything has that same
vibe - in the early Chapters in particular there was much introspection
and discussion of personal elements of the lives of the characters, some
rather surprising and very real. A conversation Victor has in Chapter 4
about his thoughts on being a father stands out in that regard, and
while the main narrative dominated in the last and longest Chapter so
far, the final dreamer suggests there may well be some more poignant
moments to come.
There is also some very
impressive writing throughout the game. It comes to the fore in the more
personal moments, but is consistently above average, and at times
sparkling. Nothing is spoken though, with every conversation being read.
Which I kind of like, because you can imbue the character with whatever
voice you like, avoiding any acting let down. It is very wordy, so the
strength of the writing helps.
Puzzling involves environmental
manipulation, and finding and using inventory items and the clues to
know how to use them (recipes, combinations, diagrams, etc). A number of
these randomise, ostensibly to enhance the replay aspect, and some are
rather good indeed. There are also conversation puzzles, some rather
convoluted, but none that canít be worked through with a bit of
tenacity. The first two Chapters are not without their challenges, but
are rather gentle and short by comparison to what comes after. Chapter 3
is very much task based, whereas Chapter 4 is essentially one big (and
very excellent) environmental manipulation (telling you too much will
spoil the puzzle itself).
Chapter 5 is the pinnacle to
date, being a lot of both those earlier things, and where two dreams
intersect (provided you can work out how) to provide some rather unique
and entertaining solves. Size matters a lot here, contributing to the
puzzling. It is the biggest Chapter by far in terms of locations, and is
the most open in terms of things to do at one time, and there also is a
stark contrast between the two dream worlds involved. One is the verdant
woodland I mentioned previously, the other a sterile Tron type of place
made up of cubist surfaces and laser beams.
It is all point and click, and
you drag inventory items to use them. Things to interact with will
highlight as you move your mouse around the screen, and you will be able
to do a single thing which each of them. It might be examine, it might
be pick up, it might be look at, but you donít choose between them. If
you can pick something up, it will then usually be available in the
inventory for further examining, or opening if it is a letter or book,
and you can then read within the inventory. If you look at something you
might also get a close up, enabling further exploration or manipulation.
It is all very straightforward.
The game saves automatically and
you can also save at will. I did get the occasional game freeze, and I
am not alone, but generally exiting and restarting moved it on. Once I
had to start from an earlier save, and why that worked I have no idea.
You can play on Steam, or through the maker's website (which plays via
your browser, but they donít recommend IE).
I canít imagine the painstaking
effort that must have gone into building this game, which probably
accounts for the time over which it has been developed. Wait if you want
for the final Chapter, but there is a goodly amount of playing time
here, and it will soundly reward your gaming attention.
I played on:
OS: Windows 10, 64 Bit
Processor: Intel i7-6700 4GHz
RAM: 32GB GDDR5
Video card: AMD Radeon RX 470 8192MB
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